The Robin 2, Bilston, Wolverhampton, Thu 10th December 2015 (11/12/15)

Roger Green:

Only fourteen months since the last trip to Bilston. But there are no complaints from me about the frequency of HMHB's appearances at this venue. Except that they don't happen often enough. But if they did, then I would probably only start complaining about the distance. So maybe it's just about right.

I can not speak highly enough about The Major fish shop. This was the first time I had arrived at a gig early enough to utilise their restaurant space. All was in order. Maybe another Christmas time I will sample the battered mince pies. And I'll need to save up a fair amount of physical effort to have a go at their Breakfast Challenge. Six bacon, six sausage, six eggs, six hash browns, six toast etc. Apparently you win a t-shirt if you can eat it all inside twenty minutes. What size is the t-shirt? And what was that about an obesity crisis?

There are some decent pubs in the vicinity, although the Spread Eagle doesn't show many signs of re-opening. It could be time to take down the sign advertising their carvery.

For the first time I took in the Robin's bed and breakfast facility. Estate agents would describe the double room as "compact". But the bed was Premier Inn standard, and it was useful to have a HMHB gig taking place at the bottom of the stairs.

The journey took in the improved and shiny New Street station. The abolition of the 20p charge to use the Gents was particularly noteable. We also made use of the Wolverhampton to Bilston bullet tram. It cuts quite a while off the time taken by the bus, but of course the tram route doesn't take in the splendidly named Fighting Cocks supermarket.

I had my attention drawn to a few HMHB media and assorted references since the London show in October. I must say I am not totally familiar with the life and works of Vashti Bunyan. Her appearance on a BBC4 documentary about psychedelia made me realise what I have been missing. Karen saw HMHB as the subject of a question on a repeat of Eggheads. "Back In The DHSS, Trouble Over Bridgwater and Achtung Bono are albums released by which satirical English rock band, formed in the 1980s?" And the answer was given as The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Not much of an egghead, really.

Howie reported back from a visit to Crich Transport Museum. A couple of people had called to him as a result of his wearing a HMHB tshirt. First was a guy who shouted "Trumpton Riots!" and then, less predictably, there was a guy who asked if he knew Coroner's Footnote. And Gomez added to the Almost Illegal file when he heard Elton Welsby being interviewed on Talk Sport. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Karen and I heard Joy Division Oven Gloves between bands at a Brix And The Extricated gig in Newcastle. The Express And Star was silent concerning the gig. Although they did have a feature on Lenny Henry. A paving stone has been laid in his honour in Dudley. "Without Dudley there is no me," he was reported to have said. I swiftly moved on to the next page. Late afternoon we were fortunate enough to be around for the sound check. The band gave it a go with When The Evening Sun Goes Down, D'Ye Ken Ted Moult, Malayan Jelutong, My Outstretched Arms and Stuck Up A Hornbeam. Thumbs up all round and they were off to the Green Room.

Back downstairs an hour later and we were first to hand over our tickets. Tony had a box full of classical CDs for Geoff. Should just about see him through to Christmas 2016. The place has a stage backdrop, describing it as a R 'n' B venue. As Tony asked, does that mean "Rhythm And Blues" or "Rhythm And Bass"? It was good to have a catch up with Andrew about the merits of various Lincoln venues. Other regulars started to filter in. John, Jay, Graham, Howie, Daz, Gomez, Pete from Worksop (who I had last seen when we were quaffing ale in Harry's Bar after the Wakefield gig) and Graham from Huddersfield, usefully located for the forthcoming Holmfirth gig.

There was much talk about this Lux Familiar Cup situation, prompted by a printed note hanging from one of the amps - "Don't Let It Prevent You Voting For AOR". Even Nigel and Neil mentioned it to me when I managed to catch up with them after the show. Nigel asked if I knew anything about it. Karen made me aware of this knockout cup on Chris's site, where one song is pitched against another, and the one winning most votes progresses to the next round, until presumably two are left to compete in a final. I have heard Steve Lamacq doing a similar thing. With this, I tend to refer back to something I remember John Peel saying when someone asked him to compile a list of his Top 10 or Top 20 favourite Fall tracks. He said that if you do things like that, then you are missing the point. I would tend to apply that to the Lux, But if people are happy to vote, and if Chris is happy to administer the whole thing, then so be it. But I don't know why anyone would want to rig the vote. Life can be so serious sometimes.

Humdrum Express was the support act tonight. First time he has done this for a while (can't be bothered to check the detail though). "Half Man Half Biscuit songs, not done by Half Man Half Biscuit" as John put it. The management had put up signs saying something to the effect of "No Talking. Please Show Respect To The Artist". Sadly, Humdrum Express wasn't getting a lot of respect. Too much chatting going on while he was on stage. Shame really, because there are some good songs in there, like Botox Lunchbreak, the one which is a collection of lines from TV adverts, and Clone Town Blues ("I can't afford to visit your town / It's probably just the same as mine"). And you can definitely put him down as an allround entertainer with the standard of jokes. "I sold a guitar on Ebay. There was no feedback from the buyer. But then again, it was an acoustic after all." I asked if I could have his set list, but he said he had to keep it as he scribbles notes on it. I didn't see any of his merchandise on sale, but I'm sure he has a presence on one of them website things.

Before Humdrum Express started, Geoff showed me the CD being used for HMHB's walk-on music. So I was clued up and ready for Jimmy Smith's version of Elmer Bernstein's Walk On The Wild Side.

Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride was inspired by the "hapless, hopeless handyman" Jerry, played by Roy Kinnear in the Man About The House / George And Mildred programmes. There was a guy at the front in a Barnstoneworth United shirt. Nigel asked what number was on the back. I didn't see what happened next, but Nigel started talking about the player who had scored a thirty-yard backheader in 1912, McIntyre? Davitt? I should know these things.

Nigel was asked about Tranmere's progress this season. It looks like it will be the play-offs at best, as there is a bit of a queue of teams in the National League, waiting to get back into League Two. He told the tale of when he went to Woking. All the hotels were booked up so he stopped at the Travelodge at Waterloo. He went to Horsell Common, where the aliens landed in War Of The Worlds. And when he was at the match he noticed that Woking have a café called Moaners Corner. Except of course, it isn't on a corner. "It would have been churlish to complain," he said. I suppose that is particularly the case when you lose 4-1, although Tranmere's goal was a good one apparently.

In reply to a request, Nigel replied how the set list often changes between leaving the dressing room and arriving on stage. One of them will want to do a particular song, while someone else will not quite know another one well enough. Tight unit then. There was a bit of motorway gossip. "Junction 17 for Crewe" was a shout from the moshpit. Apparently this is OK from the north, but there is a sign that definitely says Junction 16. Nigel also talked a bit about Sandbach services. It doesn't sound like the band uses that one very often. Too near to the start of the journeys.

A slight lyrical error during My Outstretched Arms, "hers were at quarter to five." An alleged spork was thrown onto stage. "Technically it's not a spork," Nigel noted. It was just one of those things you get in a supermarket meal. He returned to Tranmere's woes. "A Tuesday night at Molyneux was not that long ago." After which he talked about seeing an away game at Scarborough. The week before, Wolves fans had rioted. As a result, the story had gone round that kick offs in future would be at 11.00 on Saturday mornings. Bearing this in mind, Nigel had caught the 6.05 train from Lime Street, arriving in Scarborough at 9.00. However it was then that he found out that the kick off was in fact at the originally scheduled time of 3.00, leaving him with six hours to kill. A trip to the Acquatic Museum provided him with the opportunity to do so, and led to an embarrassing moment. He saw what he thought was some kind of whale, but it was actually a tuna. He had thought that a tuna was actually the size of, well, a tin of tuna.

There was also an aside about Elton John's Crocodile Rock. Until recently Nigel thought that "Rock" was actually a person (eg Rock Hudson). So he thought the line "I remember when Rock was young," had a different meaning altogether. Easily done, I suppose. Ken and Neil swapped instruments (as usual) for Bane Of Constance. A shout of "Play one the drummer knows!" met with no response. Nigel bemoaned the loss of Max Power from Tranmere to Wigan. Nigel kicked off one of his shoes when the lace became undone. It was suggested that he tries Velcro. "Velcro's for losers," he replied. I probably misheard the story about getting an air pistol on Swap Shop. He shot a tomato on a rockery with the pistol. "One of the greatest moments of my life," he reflected dolefully. One line is becoming a standard. "You've got to watch what you're saying... in PC World."

Nigel seemed to temporarily forget how Joy Division Oven Gloves starts. He declared 22nd August as National Shite Day, when his dog died, Tranmere lost, and he got caught in a heavy downpour.

The caravan guitar made a very brief appearance. Not working apparently. I picked up some great alarm noises from Neil during the cover of Rubber Bullets. There were extracts from various songs (as always) featured during the evening, but which did not quite become full versions. There was an instrumental of D'Ye Ken Ted Moult, and bit of Velvet Underground's Heroin and Pere Ubu's Final Solution, along with a sprinkling of Busy Little Market Town. Apart from those, the show went like this.

San Antonio Foam Party
Hedley Verityesque
Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride
Joy In Leeuwarden
Stuck Up A Hornbeam
1966 And All That
Outbreak Of Vitas Gerulaitis
My Outstretched Arms
Bob Wilson Anchorman
Surging Out Of Convalescence
Fix It So She Dreams Of Me
Bane Of Constance
Fear My Wraith
Running Order Squabble Fest
For What Is Chatteris?
Look Dad No Tunes
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Them's The Vagaries
All I Want For Christmas is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Joy Division Oven Gloves
Malayan Jelutong
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
Vatican Broadside
National Shite Day
Everything's AOR

And three in the encore

Rock 'n' Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
Rubber Bullets
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is The Light Of An Oncoming Train

And so ends another year of HMHB activity. Maybe we should be surprised by the omission of It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas. Maybe not. Perhaps the location of the gig means that we might have expected to hear Monmore. But it's never worked like that. It was port, cigars and Christmas handshakes all round at the end of the evening, except without the port and cigars. Sounds like a lot of folk will be there for the 2016 opener in Bristol.